This guest post is by Greg McFarlane of Control Your Cash.
People regularly say to me, “I can’t write.” Sure you can. The process of writing – getting words down on the page – is mindlessly simple. Transcribe everything you say and/or think and eventually you’ll have something down on the screen in front of you.
Which is precisely the problem.
Any blogger who wants to can bang out a 1000-word post a day. Just write whatever’s on your mind, without filter or organization, and press “publish”. Unfortunately, that’s how far too many bloggers do it.
Taking care while crafting your words is what distinguishes a blogger from a mere muser. Unless you’ve got an extremely captivating story to tell—about how you climbed all Seven Summits or fed starving Sudanese in Darfur—merely sharing your day-to-day experiences with the rest of us isn’t blogging. It’s narcissism.
There are too many homogenous bloggers living lives similar to yours and expressing like opinions for your blog to be noteworthy. Oh, you’re a mother who’s juggling child-rearing with holding a job? Congratulations. No one in the history of the universe ever had to sit in an office all day and come home to her kids before you did. Tell us more about how exhausted you are every evening, and what hilariously precocious thing your 4-year-old said that put a smile on your face and made it all worthwhile.
Yes, you want to find commonalities with your readers, but saying nothing bold or different is no way to build an ardent, devoted audience.
You’ve got to focus your ideas. It means bringing something unique, whatever that might be. (The harder you have to look for it, the less reason you have to blog.) On the mechanical level, it means not relying on phrases that come to mind easily. If they do come to mind easily, they’re likely either clichés (horrible) or plagiarism (worse). And if you’re a native English speaker, but can’t bother to use proper grammar and spelling, why should I spend my time deciphering your ramblings?
Have consideration for your reader. Assume he’ll take it personally if you waste even a millisecond of his time. God knows I take it personally when I’m reading an unfamiliar blog. Trim the excess foliage from your writing, and cauterize the cuts so that nothing useless or repetitive ever grows there again. The form of what you say is at least as important as the content, because no reader’s going to be exposed to your groundbreaking ideas if she has to trudge through a verbal peat bog to find them. Job #1 should always be to present something clean, sharp and interesting.
And do you know what magical thing will happen when you take the time and effort to craft something original, incisive and provocative for your audience?
People will hate you.
Yes. Hate. They want to be comforted, not challenged. They’ll be expecting the simplistic three-chord riffs of traditional blues-based rock ‘n roll that they’ve heard 1000 times before, and here you are giving them the shocking wild feedback and distortion of Jimi Hendrix. Readers are conditioned to understand the traditional way of interpreting the universe: if you dare to go full Einstein, telling them crazy stories about how matter and energy are two forms of the same thing and that space-time can stretch and warp, I guarantee the enemies you make will outnumber the friends.
My own blog illustrates the point. I started my blog with a mission that I thought any rational person would approve of. I wanted to show people how to take whatever money they’re starting with, however modest, and foster its growth by performing certain basic, straightforward activities and avoiding others. And I wanted my readers to comprehend the complex financial jargon that affects their everyday lives, by explaining it to them in an understandable way. When my partner and I began the blog, we thought we’d have millions of people patting us on the back, nodding knowingly and thanking us for telling it like it is.
Boy, were we wrong. Every strong opinion we espouse is met with various commenters telling us we’re mean, insensitive, or unrealistic. A couple of our blogging colleagues—people who run sites more popular than ours—banned us outright for challenging their positions. We were polite in our outspokenness, yet they still wanted us silenced.
But regardless of what anyone wants to hear, the fact is that you shouldn’t blame VISA because your credit card payments are high. You owe zero loyalty to your employer. If you buy a house with an adjustable-rate mortgage, you are playing with gasoline and a lit match.
Virtually none of the blogs similar to ours take the same positions. Instead, most offer the same easily digestible advice that’s resulted in a society of overextended consumers.
What keeps us going is that the readers who do like our blog, love it. They bookmark it, they subscribe to the RSS feed, and most importantly, they actually read it. Our readers know that three times a week, they can come to us for a long, detailed, carefully researched post. And that that post will challenge assumptions, inspire action, and use undeniable premises to reach conclusions that aren’t obvious. Our readers also know that every post will be written in an uncompromising and hopefully interesting style. After all, that’s what I look for when searching for a blog to read.
As I write this, my blog’s Alexa rank seems to have plateaued around 122,000. I still want that rank to improve, but I don’t obsess on it like I once did. Quality and quantity don’t always overlap. Given the choice between having x devoted and demanding readers, and having x+y readers who are just looking for reassurance and nice stories, I’ll take the former every time. If you want your ideas to resonate, you should too.
Greg McFarlane is an advertising copywriter who lives in Las Vegas. He recently wrote Control Your Cash: Making Money Make Sense, a financial primer for people in their 20s and 30s who know nothing about money. You can buy the book here (physical) or here (Kindle) and reach Greg at [email protected].